It's not the crime, it's the cover-up – a lesson of which Bill Belichick is aware, and, we can presume, is taking to heart as the NFL investigated deflated footballs the New England Patriots used in Sunday's AFC championship.
Belichick addressed the controversy for the first time Thursday morning and made a number of strong and precise comments that, if he isn't telling the truth, can be fairly easily contradicted or even proven completely false. If that were to happen, his reputation would be finished.
Belichick repeatedly mentioned he believes current and former players or staff members – or anyone else – will confirm what he said. He all but asked NFL investigators and the media to go ask them.
This suggests what Belichick said was honest. He's a smart man – extremely smart – and even his greatest critics will concede that. Only a fool would say what he said if his comments were so easily disproved. This strategy would run against every bit of lawyerly advice.
So he didn't come out and just say, "No explanation," for how the Patriots' footballs wound up underinflated in the first half of their rout of the Colts.
He said he never heard a word of this until Monday morning – not from officials, not from staffers, not from the media.
"When I came in Monday morning, I was shocked to hear about the news reports about the footballs. I had no knowledge of the situation until Monday morning," Belichick said.
This can be easily disproved if he isn't telling the truth. Any number of people can contradict this, including referees who, Belichick now implies, removed 12 of New England's footballs from the game at halftime yet apparently didn't tell the head coach.
That's putting himself on an easily sawed-off limb … unless he's being truthful.
Belichick said he had "no knowledge of the various steps involved" in the way footballs are measured pregame and controlled to assure their integrity. The man has coached in the NFL for 40 years, so that assertion can be challenged by countless former players, assistants, referees, league officials and anyone else.
He said it anyway.
"In my time as a coach I've never spoken to any player or staff member about football air pressure," Belichick said. "That is not a subject I have ever brought up."
Again, that's a firm declaration any number of people could challenge.
Belichick instead, most notably, threw this on Brady, whom, you would presume, he's spoken to this week.
"I think we all know that quarterbacks, kickers, specialists have certain preferences on the footballs," Belichick said. "They know a lot more than I do. They're a lot more sensitive to it than I am. I hear them comment on it from time to time, but I can tell you, and they will tell you, that there's never any sympathy whatsoever from me on that subject. Zero.
"Tom's personal preferences on his footballs are something that he can talk about in much better detail and information than I could possibly provide."
Brady will address the media at 4 p.m. ET Thursday, moving his news conference up a day.
That was about it from Belichick. Football condition isn't my thing. …Talk to Tom. …I have no idea. …I can't say anything else.
His only regret, he said, was not overinflating the ball, so if there was a natural decrease in inflation levels during game action, the ball would remain within the legal limits of between 12.5 and 13.5 pounds of pressure per square inch. New England will employ that tactic going forward, Belichick said.
Those inclined to see Belichick as an evil, win-at-all-cost, lie-to-protect-himself figure will buy none of his news conference. If you take a step back, though, his purposeful decision to make such declarative statements – the kind so many handlers would advise against – suggests the opposite. Or the man is completely self-destructive in a way that belies his career.
There also were a couple of broader themes at work here.
One is that Belichick has no problem throwing this on his quarterback. Brady is the greatest New England Patriots quarterback of all time and the two are preparing for their sixth Super Bowl together, but this is still a coach-player relationship.
They are about business first. Neither Belichick nor Brady has been willing in the past to talk about their personal relationship. Belichick repeatedly talks about "all his players" and about treating them equally. Brady has never (or rarely?) suggested he and the coach share anything more than professional respect. This isn't some buddy movie.
From outside the building they may be seen as something else, but inside those walls Brady is a player and Belichick is a coach, and Bill sure isn't going to protect Tom on this. If Brady did something, then he answers for it. That's how the relationship works.
The second theme is Belichick repeating his oft-told philosophy on preparing for games, particularly by trying to make practice as difficult as possible. New England almost exclusively practices outdoors behind Gillette Stadium, in any and every condition imaginable because the players could see those conditions during games.
While most teams often retreat to opulent indoor practice facilities, New England generally goes inside only in case of lightning or something truly extreme. Otherwise, practice how you play. The Pats have a humble indoor facility – little more than an old-school bubble – and given his preference, Belichick practices on the Gillette Stadium playing surface.
This is a point of pride for the most old-school of coaches who believe it plays a role in the team's January success.
When it comes to footballs, Brady has told stories in the past about showing up for the first snap or preseason camp and finding managers dunking footballs in buckets of ice water to prepare for something the team might not see for months.
"My personal coaching philosophy, my mentality, has always been to make things as difficult as possible in practice," Belichick said. "With regards to football, I'm sure any current or past player of mine will tell you the footballs we practice with are as bad as they can be, wet, sticky, cold, slippery. However bad we can make them, I make them. Any time players complain about the quality of the footballs, I make them worse, and that stops the complaining.
"We never make the conditions of the footballs an excuse. We play with whatever or kick with whatever we have to use. That's the way it is. That has never been a priority for me, and I want the players to deal with a harder situation in practice than they'll ever have to deal with in a game."
It was in those answers that the coach showed a flash of indignation. It suggested the concept of deflating the football to make the game easier was personally insulting and embarrassing.
Fans can believe that or not. At this point, it hardly matters. Belichick made enough direct and precise statements that if he was lying on Thursday then it will come out soon.
The guess is he wanted it that way. Go ahead and prove him wrong, he's saying. Go ahead. Bring it.
And go talk to Tom.